‘A Hope That Will Not Disappoint’
By Tracy Seipel
On SCU’s 169th Anniversary, President Kevin O’Brien, S.J., asks if we can find a message from God in our isolation.
Normally every March 19, Santa Clara University celebrates its Founder’s Day, going back to 1851.
Normally the anniversary Mass inside the Mission—which also coincides with the Feast of St. Joseph—is attended by a raft of students, staff and faculty.
In the midst of a coronavirus pandemic that has vacated the university, SCU President Kevin O’Brien, S.J., knows: these are not normal times.
Yet at a live streamed noon Mass Thursday, as he peered out from the altar into the silent, deserted church before him, Fr. O’Brien offered a homily filled with hope—and faith—that together the University and its community can overcome this epic period of distress.
He invited Broncos to lean on their history, starting with that day on March 19, 1851, when Mission Santa Clara was formally transferred from the care of the Franciscans to the Jesuits.
A few months later, Fr. John Nobili, the first president, opened the college.
“For 169 years, the Jesuits have celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph on these grounds,” Fr. O’Brien told a tiny audience of four fellow Jesuits, along with lectors Eva Blanco Masias, Dean of Undergraduate Admission, and student Sofia Kahler-Quesada, '21.
Over those years, he noted, SCU’s students, faculty and staff had lived through times marked by a Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, Vietnam, tech booms and busts, and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
“Through it all,” he emphasized, “the college and later university has endured, and the Mission stands.”
At the Mass presided by Dennis Smolarski, S.J. '69, and attended by Kyle Shinseki, S.J., Paul Soukup, S.J., and Jack Treacy, S.J. '77, Fr. O’Brien also pointed to the Biblical story behind the Feast of St. Joseph as another source of strength and inspiration.
“In this weird, almost surreal time, we are anxious, scared, confused, frustrated, even angry,” the SCU President said.
“Our graduating students grieve a particular loss. Yet, as in all those years before, this Feast of St. Joseph speaks to us, for in the father of Jesus and spouse of Mary, we have a model for living to guide us at this moment.”
The carpenter Joseph had wed Mary, only to discover she was already pregnant. Unwilling to shame her, he decided on a quiet divorce. But an angel came to him saying, “Do not be afraid,” that the child Mary carried was the son of God, and was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph kept Mary as his wife.
“I find a final consolation in Joseph’s example,” said Fr. O’Brien. With the angel’s visit, Joseph’s life was completely upended. But the angel’s encouraging words allowed Joseph to trust, to step into the unknown with confidence that God was with him and that God would reveal something then unimaginable.
“As we make our leap of faith, we too can ask: What might God be trying to reveal to us?” Fr. O’Brien said, especially during this fearful time of “social distancing” and “shelter at home,” to stem the tide of the virus.
The Jesuit leader challenged everyone to look deep within themselves and ask:
- In our absence from one another, are we becoming more grateful for people whom we may take for granted?
- In our distancing, are we realizing a deep longing for community we did not fully notice as we strived too much for our independence?
- With a virus that jumps so easily from person to person, are we more aware of how interconnected we are, no matter who we are or where we live?
- In our sheltering, are we each entering into a sabbath, a time of setting apart, even solitude, when God can speak a new, marvelously unexpected word to us?
- On our walks outside, are we seeing glorious gifts in nature that have been begging for our attention?
- In this in-between time of B.C. and A.C., also known as "before coronavirus" and "after coronavirus," how might God be inviting Santa Clara and our community into something new?
“I don’t know the answers: I’m living the questions just as you are,” said the Jesuit priest who was named Santa Clara’s 29th President on Founder’s Day last year.
“But I know that we will get through this. And I know that we don’t have to be afraid, because we have each other and because we have been at this great enterprise of learning and service for 169 years.
“In this we find our strength, and as for Joseph, in God we place our hope, a hope that will not disappoint.”